This Album Changed My Life: Nils Økland - ‘Bris’ (2004)

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, fiddle player with The Gloaming, on a key influence on his playing

In early 2005, I wanted to buy a hardanger fiddle, and the uilleann piper Mick O'Brien put me in touch with the Norwegian violinist and Hardanger fiddle specialist, Nils Økland.

At the time, I knew nothing of Nils's music, but when I met him in London to pick up the fiddle, in addition to the Hardanger, he gave me his album Bris. This quickly became an all-time favourite of mine, and exerted a huge influence over me – I think.

At that time, I felt as though I had two parallel lives as a fiddler: one quite traditional, and one somewhat experimental. It was important to me to keep them separate, to keep the tradition somehow “pure”.

There's a wealth of unacknowledged power that music gets from a bit of dirt under the fingernails

But Bris gave the impetus to allow the dividing membrane to breathe a little, to relax the policing of those borders and welcome the outside influences in.


I think one of the biggest influences the album had on me was the tonal landscape of Nils’ playing – it felt in some ways very familiar, and yet pushed things so much further than I had previously encountered.

In playing our own traditional music, I had found myself drawn to a sound that felt more driftwood than stainless steel to touch. Something richer, dirtier, and more complex than clearly articulated notes. There’s a wealth of unacknowledged power that music gets from a bit of dirt under the fingernails.

The microclimates of intonation in our own traditional music have also always fascinated me, but Norway has a whole other entire universe of choices for the precise tuning of notes.

So this album from Nils showed me ways that you could extract these specific things and hold them up to the light on their own, turn them over and over and examine them from every angle.

Another path Bris opened to me was the world of Scandinavian percussion, which is so different from anything I had ever heard before. Less of playing/controlling the beat, and more of creating sound, noise, texture. It's a path that I continue to explore through playing with Petter Berndalen in This is How we Fly, who is such a fascinating human being.

This Is How We Fly kick off an Irish on Saturday November 3rd in The Model, Sligo, and touring until Sunday, November 18th, with the final date in Coughlan's, Cork